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'Our expectation is that we'll win' - Kenny's first victory finally beckons against lowly Andorra
Ireland are red-hot favourites to win a first game since November 2019 in this evening’s friendly.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 3rd 2021, 8:55 AM

THIS SHOULD BE it, then: Stephen Kenny’s first win as Ireland manager. 

“Nobody gives you anything , you have to earn the right to win”, said Kenny yesterday. “Andorra are set up [in such a way] that they don’t concede too many chances. But…yes, our expectation is that we’ll win, and this is clearly our objective.”

stephen-kenny Bagu Blanco / INPHO Stephen Kenny observes Irish training at the Estadi Nacional, Andorra. Bagu Blanco / INPHO / INPHO

If all goes to plan – or, let’s face it, remains even plan-adjacent – it would mean victory in Kenny’s 12th game in charge and end the team’s winless streak at 13 matches.

Yes, the Republic of Ireland haven’t won a game of football since 14 November 2019. That’s 568 days ago. 

Post-season, behind closed doors, in Andorra, and ahead of a Euros we are neither attending nor hosting: if it comes, the first win will be as low-key as an Ireland game can get.

But at this stage, that’s the point. These are black boxes of games: you only hear from them if something has gone badly wrong.

And, not to tempt a fate hitherto on a crusade against Stephen Kenny, nothing should go wrong tonight. Andorra are ranked 158th in the world, sandwiched between New Caledonia and Singapore. They have lost their last seven matches – conceding 25 goals to sides ranging from Portugal to the Faroe Islands – and their last win came 15 games ago.

For context, that winless run is a month longer than even Ireland’s. 

This will be the fifth meeting between the sides, and Ireland have won all of the previous four. There were a pair of meetings in qualification for the 2002 World Cup, prior to another double-header under Giovanni Trapattoni in Euro 2012 qualifying.

With Shane Long out, this Irish squad doesn’t contain any survivors from Trapattoni’s squads, while Andorra retain players not only from those games, but the World Cup qualifiers in 2001 also, including Ildefons Lima, who put Andorra ahead at Lansdowne Road 20 years ago. He is 41 now, and is in the Guinness Book of Records having enjoyed (endured?) the longest international career in history. 

ildefons-lima Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Ildefons Lima celebrates his goal for Andorra at Lansdowne Road in 2001. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

And if Lima plays against Ireland, he will match Jari Litmanen as the only other footballer to play senior international across four separate decades. 

He has been an Andorran international for longer than 60% of tonight’s Irish squad have been alive. 

Kenny has already given 12 senior debuts in his time with Ireland, and can hand out another four tonight if he wants to, with Andrew Omobamidele, Jamie McGrath, Danny Mandroiu and Chiedozie Ogbene all involved for the first time. A fifth, Peterborough’s Sammie Szmodics, was first a late call-up and then an early withdrawal through injury. 

The Irish manager is without the usual clatter of names this week – Darren Randolph, Aaron Connolly, Callum Robinson, Kevin Long, Ciaran Clark, Enda Stevens, Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Callum O’Dowda, Shane Long and Alan Browne are all missing – but he has at least had his first shot at a lengthy stretch on the training ground with his players this week, having arrived in camp in Girona last Friday prior to travelling to Andorra yesterday morning. 

Conor Hourihane didn’t give much away as to what the side have been focussing on – “I think it’s just general all over the park. Better as a team, better attacking, better defensively. Everything really” – but Kenny did say he has been working with his midfielders to pass the ball forward more quickly, given the painful lack of penetration on show in The Luxembourg Episode. 

“Some of our midfield players, overall, need to look forward more, I would say, and be quicker and earlier (with the ball). Sometimes they are conservative in their passing.” 

This was among the biggest problems against Luxembourg: WyScout stats show that less than 30% of Ireland’s 539 passes in that game went forward. They went more direct in the first half of the subsequent friendly with Qatar, and found some joy, but Andorra will pose a different challenge this evening as they usually sit deep in a 5-4-1 formation against significantly higher-ranked sides. 

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john-egan Tommy Dickson / INPHO John Egan is fit to represent Ireland once again. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

One major boost on that front is the availability of John Egan, who missed the March games with injury. Kenny has hailed him as one of Ireland’s most important players, saying earlier this year he is “critical” to how he wants his Ireland side to pass out from the back. 

A longer training stint may also yield some further creativity on set pieces, seen in the goal that gave Ireland an early lead against Qatar in March. The architect of that move was coach Anthony Barry, who linked up with the squad late having been busy winning the Champions League with Chelsea.

Kenny spoke ahead of this game of the need of his side to be flexible – they have played 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 3-4-1-2 thus far through a mixture of innovation and circumstance – so this game may see a reversion to a back four. Kenny says he isn’t wedded to the back three that we saw against Serbia and Luxembourg, admitting he probably wouldn’t have stuck with it for the latter game had he any wingers available. 

Ogbene has been added to the squad as he fits into that category, though is a doubt for tonight’s game with a tight groin. 

Kenny was characteristically taciturn when nudged for hints on his team selection and formation, when asked if he was going to trust youth or experience tonight he replied that it would be “a balance”, and adroitly manoeuvred a question asking whether he feels under pressure. 

“Listen…I feel that it’s a match I want to win. I feel a bit disappointed that we haven’t won in the last few games, for sure, and we want to go back to winning ways and make a habit of winning, and I think that’s important. So, I think it is a game we want to win tomorrow, for sure.” 

The alternative truly doesn’t bear thinking about. 

Republic of Ireland (Possible XI): Caoimhin Kelleher; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, John Egan, Ryan Manning; Conor Hourihane, Josh Cullen; Chiedozie Ogbene, Jamie McGrath, James McClean; Adam Idah

On TV: RTE Two, Sky Sports Football; KO 5pm

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